Open Questions: Evolutionary Psychology

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See also: Evolutionary theory -- Genes and behavior

Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary aquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species


 

Introduction

Some history

Genes, heredity, heritability

Examples

Open questions


Recommended references: Web sites

Recommended references: Magazine/journal articles

Recommended references: Books

Introduction

This is all about the hoary "nature vs. nurture" debate. In a nutshell (and limiting the issue specifically to humans), is human behavior "determined" by heredity or (social) environment?

As stated that baldly, the question is, at best, poorly conceived. In the first place, we have no reason to presuppose that any particular human behavior is entirely "determined" by either heredity or environment. It makes much more sense to take as a baseline (null) hypothesis that a particular behavior is "influenced" to some degree or another by both heredity and environment. Then the question becomes one of determining the relative importance of each.

Secondly, note the emphasis on particular behavior. Again, we have no reason to presuppose that the relative importance of heredity and environment should be the same for all types of behavior. It would, in fact, be quite remarkable if this were so.

Some history

The notion of "animal instincts" has been around, it seems, forever. Some philosophers have held that, while typical animal behavior is "instinctive" or "hard-wired", human behavior is different and that this fact distinguishes humans from other animals. Others philosophers, however, have wondered why, if humans are also properly regarded biologically as animals, their behavior should be understood in a radically different way from that of other species in the animal kingdom.

Evolutionary psychology has a distinctive way of answering questions about "why" a particular sort of human behavior exists and is the way it is. As with other applications of evolutionary thinking, a behavior is "explained" by showing its adaptive value to individuals or related groups of individuals. This kind of explanation may be complementary to, rather than exclusive of, other kinds of explanations, such as how the behavior might be learned from or conditioned by environmental influences or how the behavior is a result of biological or neurological characteristics.

Genes, heredity, heritability

Examples

Here are some examples of human behavior and/or mental life that figure prominently in debates over heredity vs. environment:
Origins of morality, altruism, and cooperative behavior
Violence, aggression, selfishness, territoriality
Human mating and child-rearing behavior, sexual jealousy
Use of logic, reasoning, and different thinking styles
Language acquisition
Incest taboos
Dominance, hierarchy, herd/hive/swarm behavior

Open questions


Recommended references: Web sites

Site indexes

Open Directory Project: Sociobiology
Categorized and annotated links. A version of this list is at Google, with entries sorted in "page rank" order. May also be found at Netscape.
Open Directory Project: Evolutionary Psychology
Categorized and annotated links. A version of this list is at Google, with entries sorted in "page rank" order. May also be found at Netscape.
Galaxy: Evolutionary Psychology
Categorized site directory. Entries usually include descriptive annotations.
Galaxy: Sociobiology
Categorized site directory. Entries usually include descriptive annotations.


Sites with general resources

The evolution of communication
Web site of a research project that uses simple robots to simulate the evolution of social communication.


Surveys, overviews, tutorials

The Evolutionary Psychology FAQ
Very complete set of questions and answers, maintained by Edward Hagen.
The Evolution of Cooperation
A computer simulation of the evolution of cooperation.
Psyching Out Evolutionary Psychology: Interview with David J. Buller
July 2005 Scientific American In Focus article, consisting of an interview with the author of a book critical of evolutionary psychology.
The Samaritan Paradox
November 2004 Scientific American Sidebar that asks "If we live in a dog-eat-dog world, then why are we frequently so good to each other?"
Biological Aspects of Altruism
A ScienceWeek "symposium" consisting of excerpts and summaries of articles from various sources.
The Myths of Monogamy
Transcript of a radio dicussion about monogamy in humans. Participants include evolutionary psychologists David Barash and Judy Lipton.
Evolutionary Psychology: Innateness vs. Learning
Detailed critique of the validity of evolutionary psychology, by Yehouda Harpaz.


Recommended references: Magazine/journal articles

Evolutionary Upstarts
Bruce Bower
Science Week, September 21, 2002, pp. 186-188
The relative weights of biology and culture in affecting human behavior is a contentious issue. The availability of testable predictions to compare evolutionary psychology to various alternatives may be on the horizon.
[References]
Why We Take Risks
Richard Conniff
Discover, December 2001, pp. 62-67
The "handicap principle" posits that animals (possibly including humans) take risks as an outward display of their genetic fitness. It may help explain why females are attracted to males of their species which have seemingly excessive nonfunctional characteristics, such as a peacock's tail.
The Genetic Mystery of Music
Josie Glausiusz
Discover, August 2001, pp. 71-75
Enjoyment of music seems to be nearly universal among humans. The question is how this came about. Could it somehow be an evolutionary adaptation?
The End of Nature versus Nurture
Frans B. M. deWaal
Scientific American, December 1999, pp. 94-99
There is no longer any doubt that both nature (the genes) and nurture (the environment) jointly shape animal (and human) behavior. Setting aside ideological disputes, psychology and sociology will find a more solid foundation in biology.
Animal Contests as Evolutionary Games
Michael Mesterton-Gibbons; Eldridge S. Adams
American Scientist, July-August 1998, pp. 334-341
Understanding animal behavior in terms of biology may be assisted by studying what happens in direct competition between individual animals. The concept of evolutionary stable strategies emerges as a key explanatory tool.
How Females Choose Their Mates
Lee Alan Dugatkin; Jean-guy J. Godin
Scientific American, April 1998, pp. 56-61
Darwin himself proposed that sexual selection may influence evolution not by survival ability but by systematic choices in selection of mates. Observation of many types of animal species from insects to mammals has give much support to this notion, though the degree it seems to occurs varies among species. Imitation, in which a female (for example) tends to choose males that other females are observed to prefer, may sometimes be a factor.
The New Social Darwinists
John Horgan
Scientific American, October 1995, pp. 174-181
Evolutionary theory is being used to provide explanations for many types of human behavior. Evidence for this point of view is accumulating, but there are also reasons for skepticism.


Recommended references: Books


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Copyright © 2002 by Charles Daney, All Rights Reserved